Gunshot victim finds blessings worth counting

Kristi O’Harran

Kristi’s Notebook

Mary Peters said she is a living murder victim.

Those are harsh words, not supported by our legal system, but look at her face if you doubt the statement. Peters was shot through the head, allegedly by her husband, on July 11, 1999, while they sat in their car in Mountlake Terrace.

"There was a heated argument," said Peters, 40, clutching an ice pack to the dent in the side of her head. "I was crying. He was hugging me. He asked if I was afraid."

Then she heard a "ba boom."

She saw a flash.

The rest is a blur.

Michael Robert Clary was charged with first-degree assault in connection with the incident. Police found a loaded .357-caliber handgun on the floor of the vehicle near the victim, and Clary admitted he carried the weapon sometimes. He pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and being a felon in possession of a firearm, under an agreement reached with Snohomish County prosecutors.

He entered a standard guilty plea to the firearm possession charge, but entered a so-called Alford plea to the assault charge. In court papers, Clary said he does not believe he committed the offense, but wanted to take advantage of the prosecution’s offer.

He will be sentenced Tuesday. Clary faces less than two years in prison.

Peters won’t testify in court about the nightmare that took her right eye and most of the sight in her left eye.

She underwent surgeries to make repairs. Her right eyeball is glass, but you can’t see it. Plastic surgery hasn’t lifted the skin over the socket. The dip on the right side of her head will be fixed later by propping the area with a bone from another part of her body. Air doesn’t pass through the misshapen nose. Her jaw doesn’t open wide enough for Peters to brush her teeth.

But you know what? She is going to get better. This is a self-described conquering woman who has stared down decades of adversity with the strength of Helen of Troy. A street kid, Peters hitchhiked across the country when she was 12 or 13, she said. There were scrapes with the law.

"I grew up," she said. "I got my life together."

Peters said it was love at first sight when she met Clary at an Alcoholic’s Anonymous dance. During their eight years of marriage, she said they both returned to using drugs and alcohol. The day of the shooting, they were on their way to the market to buy her son a sandwich.

"We’d been drinking," she said. "We’d been arguing."

At Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, surgeons took 22 hours to remove fragments of the bullet that splattered behind her face.

"My teeth cracked like popcorn," Peters said. "I’m in pain 24 hours a day. It’s like somebody is squeezing my head, trying to pop my brain out."

Her companion and roommate, John Herndon, knew Peters from her work at a thrift store. Before her injury, he dropped into her shop almost every day to see if any new goods struck his fancy.

"We became good friends," said Herndon, 39. "I was in disbelief this could happen."

Herndon has cared for Peters at his home east of Mill Creek since she left the hospital. He takes her to doctor appointments, minds her medications and lets her rest a throbbing head on his lap. Her medical treatment is paid for by the state crime victims compensation program.

"I’m so grateful to John," Peters said, bending over to rock her head. "He cries with me."

After the shooting, her personal household items were scattered. Herndon managed to retrieve her beloved red antique sofa. He also makes her special mashed potatoes with apples and crushed hazel nuts that she slurps like thick soup.

"It makes me sad when I can’t eat," Peters said. "I’ve always been so independent."

Her greatest pride is teen-age twin sons who live with their father in Marysville. One watched his mother try to sweep the floor one day, missing dirt she couldn’t see. He grabbed the broom and told his mother he would be there to do whatever she couldn’t manage.

"They are very special boys," Peters said. "I am so blessed."

Over Herndon’s front door there is a wooden plaque with animals in Noah’s Ark. It reads "Count your blessings two by two." Peters said she has enough vision left to read her Bible. Who could imagine how difficult it was for her to find something positive in her life?

There are always the dreadful memories.

"My mind goes over and over it a million times every day," she said. "It just comes up like a big movie screen."

She’ll need to gather strength for Tuesday’s sentencing when she sees Clary in court. As she dabbed tissue at saliva that rolled down her chin, she contemplated the moment.

"He hasn’t seen my face yet," she said.

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